By Dan Peak
The Commoner Call (7/12/18)
Dear Fellow Readers,
“…is captive to Russia!”
Trump now openly revels in insulting trusted U.S. allies while touting his desire for a close relationship with Russia’s Vladimir Putin. There is no more subtlety, no more debate about alternative meaning to the exact words he just used – it’s all about his Putin desire.
If you missed a few days in the news cycle you might read the quote and think, ho-hum, or even womp, womp, some liberal is mouthing off again about Trump-Russia. If you were a guest on ‘Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me’ and guessed, “a Democrat” when asked who said this, you’d be corrected by Peter Sagal: Trump Says Germany ‘is captive to Russia’ In Fiery Opening Salvo Against NATO.
The correct answer is Trump said this about Germany while attending the NATO meeting in Brussels on his way to Russia. We’ll dig in, but first, catch Chief of Staff John Kelly’s reaction to Trump’s comment; suddenly he appears to find something of great interest on the floor. Or maybe White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders is right, “[Kelly] was displeased because he was expecting a full breakfast and there were only pastries and cheese.” Here in Wisconsin we can sympathize, the cheese is important, but it’s hardly a full breakfast.
Certainly you’ve noticed how often Trump accuses others of his own transgressions? Someone had to say it, and we’re sure German Chancellor Merkel rues the missed opportunity. Then again, the “you’re the puppet” debate between Trump and Clinton didn’t exactly win the day back when.
Every pundit was right, Trump was going to pick a fight with NATO and no matter how the Germans and other NATO members tried to appease Trump for unity, he was having none of it.
“It was also because of your leadership,” Stoltenberg told Trump. Budget increases started after Russia’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, and they have accelerated in the Trump era in response to the U.S. president’s criticism.
“We’re supposed to protect Germany but they’re getting their energy from Russia,” Trump told Stoltenberg, as aides on both the U.S. and NATO side of a long table shifted in their seats and sat stonefaced. Chief of Staff John F. Kelly jerked his head away as U.S. Ambassador to NATO Kay Bailey Hutchison looked up at the ceiling. “So explain that,” Trump said. “And it can’t be explained, and you know that.”
“Trump’s criticism set off immediate anxiety in Germany. Munich’s Süddeutsche Zeitung headlined its story: “It is not only bad, it is catastrophic.””
I guess when you’re Trump and looking forward to your cozy tete a tete with Putin, no amount of boot licking is going to satisfy. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg tried to put on a happy face even after Trump dumped the punch bowl. Stoltenberg tried to paper over the differences, saying that the bottom line is that NATO is getting stronger.
Sure. And next time make sure there is full breakfast for Kelly – though he’s unlikely to still be around for a next time.
The Washington Post ran an excellent summary of Trump at the NATO meeting: This Remarkable Exchange At NATO Perfectly Captures Trump’s Ugly Bad Faith.
“Yet the takeaway from the episode has to be that Trump is far from satisfied. But what would satisfy him? It’s true that previous presidents have made an issue of NATO funding in the past, but what’s happening now seems like something different: As , Trump appears to be deliberately avoiding any scenario in which he might claim a win. Indeed, it’s plausible that, whether through ignorance or malice, he has structured his ask in a way that it cannot be fulfilled, in order to create a pretext for precipitating a fissure with the alliance.”
Russian chess grandmaster and activist Garry Kasparov tweeted this following reports of Trump’s performance:
Garry Kasparov Retweeted Tom Nichols
Trump doesn’t really care about how much NATO countries spend on defense. He wants to destroy NATO and weaken the EU. And I’m sure only Robert Mueller can tell us why.
Garry Kasparov added…
Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) and vice-chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee that issued a bipartisan summary conclusion that Russian interference intended to influence the U.S. election in Trump’s favor tweeted this:
Mark Warner Retweeted Donald J. Trump
NATO is the reason that summit you’re at isn’t being conducted in Russian.
Mark Warner added,
Donald J. TrumpVerified account @realDonaldTrump
What good is NATO if Germany is paying Russia billions of dollars for gas and energy? Why are there only 5 out of 29 countries that have met their commitment? The U.S. is paying for Europe’s protection, then loses billions on Trade. Must pay 2% of GDP IMMEDIATELY, not by 2025.
10:46 AM – 11 Jul 2018
The Senate even took the step of voting 97-2 to re-endorse NATO.
But by now we all know, Trump can care less and he and Putin had already told us that the Trump-Putin meeting was going to be the “easiest” part of his trip.
Another view of Trump’s eagerness to be with Putin is here: Republican Strategist Rick Wilson Says Trump ‘eager as a schoolgirl’ To Hang With Putin A Destroy NATO.
Author and never-Trumper Rick Wilson offered this:
“This is a moment of disaster already for our European allies,” Wilson said. “He’s eager as a schoolgirl for this meeting with Vladimir Putin and he’s throwing all sorts of shade and hating on our NATO allies, folks that have stood with us for 70 years.”
So Europe, as you’ve already learned, we don’t have your back.
Relax, with Trump in charge what could possibly go wrong?
So what could happen when Trump meets with Putin? As noted in Esquire magazine: The Most Dangerous Outcome for Trump’s Euro Trip is All Too Possible.
As th story subhead warned: The United States leaving NATO is more and more likely. It’s also a priority of Vladimir Putin.
There is one person Trump consistently praises and never criticizes – Putin. Jack Holmes writing for Esquire uses a threaded tweet from former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro to highlight some of the possible risks in addition to U.S. commitment to NATO.
“What’s more, his passionate desire for friendship with Putin is emboldening Russia & risks doing further damage to European security. If he recognizes Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea, if he seeks to tone down sanctions on Russia over its aggression vs Ukraine, watch out.”
Shapiro adds how significant a victory this could be for Putin.
“If we get there, the implications are innumerable & terrifying: Russia pawing at Baltics & other E & C European states; breakdown of joint defense structures; withdrawal of US troops from Euro bases; less restrained German foreign policy; weaker US power projection to Eurasia.”
Trump may well eventually hand over Crimea, eastern Ukraine, Syria and leave the Baltic countries defenseless against Russian aggression.
Journalist David Ignatius offers this view: Trump Is Scarred, Prickly & Needy.
“The current version of Trump sees himself as chief executive not of a thriving enterprise but of one that has nearly been run into the ground by his predecessors. Rather than warmly embracing longtime partners in Europe, he resents them and their success. He picks needless fights and tries to humiliate people he feels have slighted him.
“This scarred, prickly Trump is looking for new friends and investors. It’s almost as if he is ready to fold what he sees as a losing hand and draw a fresh set of cards — ones in this case bearing the faces of North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, China’s Xi Jinping and Russia’s Vladimir Putin.”
Wisconsin’s everlasting embarassment
Now that Senator Ron Johnson is back from his July 4th Russia-Putin appeasement visit, what has he had to say? Johnson took some time out from trying to get his Matryoshka nesting dolls back together to declare: After Moscow Trip, Ron Johnson Says Election Meddling Overblown.
Some of his GOP Russpublican buddies weren’t quite so appeasing.
What’s important to understand about Johnson’s post-Russia comments is that he stands alone from the rest of the contingent.
“One of the Republican senators back from a trip to Moscow is suggesting that Congress went too far in punishing Russia for meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
““I’ve been pretty upfront that the election interference — as serious as that was, and unacceptable — is not the greatest threat to our democracy,” Sen. said in with the Washington Examiner published over the weekend. “We’ve blown it way out of proportion.”
““We need to really honestly assess what actually happened, what effect did it have, and what effect are our sanctions actually having, positively and negatively,” the Republican from Wisconsin said.”
Johnson is starting to sound like an older parent that asks, “what time is it?” repeatedly no matter how often you answer. If Johnson wants to assess, maybe he can reach out to his peers on the Senate Intelligence Committee for insights. But beyond his polite tut-tuts, what’s remarkable is he stands alone.
“Other Republican senators on the trip returned to the United States with a much more strident tone, including Louisiana’s .
“Kennedy said in a CNN interview Monday that the message for Russia was, “stop screwing with American elections.”
Here’s a longer version of the view offered by Senator Kennedy (R-LA) in an AP story: GOP Senator Warns Against Trusting Putin ‘mafia’.
Compare Johnson’s view of reconsidering U.S. sanctions against Russia for annexing Crimea, military intervention in eastern Ukraine and Trump-Putin election corruption with Kennedy’s view:
“A U.S. senator who just returned from a congressional trip to Russia warned against trusting President Vladimir Putin, saying that dealing with the Russian government is like “dealing with the mafia…. You can’t trust Putin,” Kennedy said. “I think the best we can do is try to contain him.””
Kennedy does not mince words.
““We didn’t call each other an ‘ignorant slut’ or anything, but we exchanged words,” the senator said.
“Kennedy said the senators confronted the Russians about election interference in 2016. Kennedy said the senators warned the Russians if they interfere in the November election, Congress “will hit you with sanctions even harder than what we have right now.”
“”He said the Russian response was to deny that they interfered in the election. “Deny, deny, deny,” he said….
“It’s really like dealing with the mafia.””
To which our Senator Ron Johnson added, tut, tut. Johnson is for whatever reason regularly leaving his house and forgetting to put on pants. Something is up!
While America Sleeps…
By way of summarizing, we’ll look to David Corn, Mother Jones magazine’s Washington bureau chief and co-author (with Michael Isikoff) of Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin’s War on America and the Election of Donald Trump.
While some faint-hearted appeasers are calling for subtle shading and gentle language, Mr. Corn minces no words getting to the truth: While America Sleeps: Trump’s Treachery And The Russia Scandal.
“Though the US intelligence community, most of Trump’s top national security aides, and Republican and Democratic congressional leaders have all agreed with the assessment that Putin’s regime mounted information warfare against the United States in 2016 to cause discord during the election and help Trump win the White House, Trump has continued to assist Putin’s brazen campaign of denial.”
This may not feel like news, but Corn’s point is also about the currency of Trump’s statements prior to his meeting with Putin in addition to the consistency of Trump’s defense of Putin. On July 5th, while our own Ron Johnson was tut-tutting in Moscow, Trump tweeted, “You know President Putin is KGB… Putin is fine. He’s fine. We are all fine, we’re all people.“ To which Corn says:
“Trump was defending the man who, according to US intelligence, ordered a covert assault on American democracy—and who has invaded Ukraine and overseen a corrupt government that has engaged in election fraud, suppressed dissent, committed human rights abuses, backed the murderous Syrian regime, criminalized discussion of gay rights, and plotted to undermine Western democracies. Trump’s own administration has blamed Moscow for the recent nerve agent attacks in the United Kingdom. Putin is not fine.
“Yet the president embracing Putin was just another day in Trumpland. Republicans—once members of a party in which confronting Russia was as basic as breathing—didn’t bat an eye. Conservative commentators raised no outcry. Even most Democrats, if they bothered to respond to this latest outrage, managed not much more than an eye-roll. Within the media, the presses did not stop.”
So as Trump and Johnson both signal they are ‘Okay’ with Putin’s action, Corn cautions:
“…And for many others, the scandal is not presented or viewed as the original sin and paramount controversy of the scandal-ridden Trump presidency.
“It may be ineffective or counterproductive to shout out each day, “Where’s the outrage?” Yet the public record remains: Trump and Putin have jointly worked to disappear perhaps the greatest crime ever committed against American democracy and their respective complicity in this villainy. And it is crucial for the Republic that they not succeed.”
The real reason for Kavanaugh?
For extra credit we’ll offer an observation for your own consideration and/or research. Here’s a tweet put forward by Seth Abramson regarding the SCOTUS nomination of Brett Kavanaugh:
(IMPORTANT) These words by Kavanaugh are the main reason Trump picked him: “The Constitution establishes a clear mechanism to deter executive malfeasance [impeachment]; we should not burden a sitting President with civil suits, criminal investigations, or criminal prosecutions.”
The question is whether Trump is packing the courts and the Department of Justice with persons that he can count on to dismiss any legal challenges should they be brought forward. Legal challenges might be anything from civil litigation to special counsel authority to subpoena Trump. We’ll add this link should you want to consider the possibility. Remember, Kavanaugh is Justice Kennedy’s choice and we highlighted the special business relationship between. Justice Kennedy’s son at Deutsche Bank and loans to Trump’s business. Maybe this is a nothing-burger to use former Trump Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, but now is the time to ask: Does Brett Kavanaugh Think The President Is Immune From Criminal Charges?
A final note. Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, who is currently in jail ahead of his trial, was being held in solitary for his own protection. It turns out, it might not be that bad, but once again, Manafort manages to shoot himself in the foot. Manafort is in fact in solitary, but while filing for a delay to prepare for his trial…
“His attorneys have complained about the conditions at Northern Neck Regional Jail in Warsaw, where he’s being in solitary confinement for his own protection.
“But the new filing reveals a jailhouse phone call recording where Manafort boasts about special privileges he enjoys as he waits for his scheduled trial to start July 25.”